Amy Clithero is one of the young vets featured in a new BBC series following a group of final-year students at the Royal Veterinary College. She talks to Chris Bond.
AT this time of year the heather moorlands that cover the hills rising up from Hebden Bridge are a riot of purple. And even on a blustery, unseasonably autumnal day like this with battleship-grey clouds racing overhead, it’s hard not to be moved by the stark beauty of the landscape.
It’s one thing to admire the views, though, it’s another to actually live on an isolated hilltop like this. It’s certainly the not the kind of place to reside if you like to be surrounded by people and all the comforts of suburban life.
But Amy Clithero is quite at home in this windswept corner of the Pennines, where her family has lived for the past 11 years. It’s also home to the Hebden Bridge Equestrian Centre, run by her mother Karen, where Amy’s love of horses was nurtured. It’s a passion that convinced her she wanted to make a career out of working with animals.
For the past five years the 24-year-old has been studying at vet school and last year she was one of 10 students at the Royal Veterinary College in London chosen to take part in a BBC 2 documentary programme called Young Vets.
The 10-part series, which hit our screens earlier this week, focuses on the aspiring vets in their final year as they attempt to take what they have learnt in the classroom and put it to the test for the first time on farms and in animal hospitals up and down the country.
It shows the students working with everything from farmyard animals to exotic creatures in zoos, and looks in as they learn how to carry out caesareans on sheep and treat a horse with sinusitis.
Amy says she only got involved by chance. “I wasn’t really that bothered about doing it because it sounded like a lot of effort and I had a lot on. But on the day they were casting I was in the big hospital at uni and it was all anyone was talking about.”
Curiosity got the better of her so she went along to the auditions. “I had half an hour of spare time so I thought I might as well see what it was about. I popped along and the series producer was there and she just started talking about stuff, although I can’t remember what exactly.”
The show’s producers liked the way she came across and picked her for the series. The TV cameras then spent a few days with each of the students over a period of time, capturing the ensuing highs and lows. “You’re given a case and the cameras then follow the animal from when it enters the hospital to when it leaves, so they can follow its story and your involvement with it,” Amy explains.
She features in several episodes and was filmed working with farm animals and horses as far away as Kent. One of her cases was a Shetland pony with colic that needed an operation. “It came in as an emergency because it was in a lot of pain. It needed surgery so the cameras watched the surgery and then its recovery.”
Amy was also filmed on a placement in Settle. “That was doing farm work so there was a lot of checking to see if cows were pregnant and if they weren’t then finding out if there was a problem.”
One of her favourite moments came when she was filmed winning at the Trawden Agricultural Show, near Colne. “Last year I rode my horse Carlo at the show and they came and filmed me and we were awesome,” she says, clearly still tickled by the fact the TV cameras were there to capture their moment of triumph.
Amy’s passion for animals, and in particular horses, goes back to her childhood. At the age of five, when a lot of girls are playing with dolls, she was already competing in showjumping events. “My mum was into horses and she got me my first pony that we all used to share. But because we wanted to ride on our own we got another one, called Arny, and he was epic. He was the first pony I properly competed on.”
The fourth of six children, Amy wanted to follow in her sisters’ footsteps. “We’re a very competitive family and we’ve always had horses. But we’re more like adrenaline junkies, as opposed to sitting on a horse looking pretty.”
As a teenager she somehow found time to juggle her school work and horse riding. “My school was miles away because I couldn’t get into the local one. So I would do my homework on the bus and get home at half four, then I would get changed into my scruffs, go outside and help teach the kids stable management, or the actual lessons if needed. When that was finished at about 7.30 I would ride my own horse. So I would come in at half nine, or ten o’clock most nights.”
Horse riding is a high-risk sport and Amy admits she has been fortunate not to have suffered any serious accidents. “I’ve been really lucky and I’ve never broken a bone.” Although she has had some narrow escapes. “I was cantering around the field one time and the horse slipped and landed on my leg. That could have been nasty but fortunately I was able to hobble home.”
She says it was only when her family moved here from Lancashire and the family set up their riding school that she began to start thinking seriously about becoming a budding James Herriot.
“When I was younger I said I always wanted to be a vet but then loads of people say that.” It was after helping a vet, who had been called out to treat one of their stallions which had badly cut its leg, that Amy realised she had found her vocation. “I didn’t do very much but I thought it was really exciting,” she says.
“I did work experience at his vets practice in Halifax and he paid me to be a receptionist for a bit so I can’t have been completely useless.”
Not everyone wants to work with animals so what is it about it that she enjoys? “They’re just really cool and they can’t fix themselves but we can,” she says. “I guess also I’ve been around more animals than humans. When I was at school because I was so busy I didn’t really hang out with friends and do the normal teenage things.” Not that she regrets this. “I don’t feel like I’ve missed out because I’ve made loads of friends from the riding school.”
Working with animals can mean doing long hours but Amy isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty. “There used to be sheep on the land here so I used to help with lambing and things like that.”
She’s also pragmatic when it comes to making tough decisions about animals. Over the years the family have had three of their horses put down, including her beloved Arny. “He was the first one we’d seen put down and it was our first pony, we’d had him for 15 years and a lot of people were crying that day. But it happens, you can’t have animals without the death.
“If it’s the right thing to do then you just get on with it. It’s not a pleasant job but you get it done as quickly and as humanely as you can.”
Although Amy comes across as confident and straight-talking, she admits that she found it a bit of a challenge being in front of the TV cameras. “It’s one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done because you’re learning to do something for the first time and you’re being filmed while you’re learning,” she says. “You’re also being assessed by the college so altogether it’s really quite stressful.”
Even so, she’s curious to see how she comes across in the programmes. “It will be interesting to see how I deal with things because when you’re doing something you don’t necessarily realise how you come across, so I want to watch it when I don’t get things right to see how I handle it.”
Amy has now finished her college course and has begun the serious task of finding a job. Her aim is get some experience working for a practice, ideally in the local area but she’s prepared to move away if necessary.
But first she is spending a month in either Egypt or the Gambia, working for an animal charity that looks after injured horses and donkeys. It will be a far cry from the climate and culture of her home in Yorkshire, but then Amy Clithero isn’t the kind of person who’s afraid of jumping in at the deep end.
Young Vets continues on BBC 2 next Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 7pm.
Amy is cycling 450 miles to Cornwall to help raise money for her working trip to Africa. If you would like to sponsor her go to www.justgiving.co.uk/amyclithero